Saturday, December 17, 2011

Baking cookies!

I think  might finally be catching on to this blog networking thing. It only took  five months. haha1

I've had the yen lately to make cookies! Gee, dunno why!

I have flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, eggs, butter and vanilla. Cookies! Now to make up my mind on what kind to make. I hear tell I may have some Christmas carolers tomorrow night, so I'd like to have a cookie or two to hand out.  I'd like to wrap them like a little package, just two or three cookies each, and tie with a ribbon. I think it'd be a nice little thank you for the carolers.

Perhaps I'll make a traditional frosted sugar cookie, a thumbprint cookie with raspberry jam, and..hmm..  I need a third. Do you have a favorite cookie you always make for  the holidays?

Merry  Christmas and happy baking!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Beef Lo Mein (stir fry with noodles)

The sauce and noodles make this delicious dish.  Use whatever vegetables you prefer, and linguine noodles can be used in place of the udon noodles. I just love the  udon noodles because they're so quick  cooking and tender, and  they're less than a dollar more than linguine noodles, so why not?

I didn't specify a certain cut of meat because preference varies and you really can use just about any cut you have on  hand,  just cut it super thin, on a bias, and against the grain, and cook it fast, to ensure tender beef.  This is  a great dish to stretch a buck with steak.

While you slice and dice your veggies, marinade the beef for about 20-30 minutes.

Marinade:1-2 lb piece of beef, I used two thin cut top round steaks because they're cheap where I get them. :)
Marinate them whole in large resealable plastic baggies, with:
4 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 fat Tablespoons grated garlic
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
pinch of black pepper

Squeeze all the air out of the baggie,  and squish the marinade around the beef real well so all the meat gets coated.  Refrigerate 20-30 minutes.

For the stir fry:
about 2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil for frying
1 cup beef broth
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
1 Tablespoon cooking Sherry
1 Tablespoon honey
2 Tablespoons soy, divided
1 Tablespoon Black Bean and Garlic sauce(in a small dark jar in the Asia section of the grocery)

slice the marinated  beef very thin, on the bias, and against the grain
1 carrot, ribboned with a potato peeler
large handful of mushrooms, sliced
1 green  bell pepper, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 small  head of cabbage, very thinly sliced
baby corn,  cut  into about 1-inch  pieces
scallions, to garnish

1 heaping Tablespoon cornstarch melted into about 2 Tablespoons of cool or room temp beef broth or water.

about 2 cups of cooked and drained udon or linguine noodles.

The cooking goes fast, so be sure to have everything you need assembled and  ready.

In a large, high sided frying pan or wok, over high heat, cook the beef in small batches, so it doesn't become steamed  by too  much in the pan and overcook.
Set the beef aside on a plate as you finish each batch.

Add bell peppers, mushrooms, and carrots in the vegetable oil, if needed.
Keep the veggies moving, and when the mushrooms begin to darken and cook, remove veggies with a slotted spoon and set a side on a plate.

Turn heat down just a hair, and add beef broth,  oyster sauce, rice wine vinegar, sherry,  and half the  soy sauce.
Stir to combine well, and add veggies and beef back to the pan. Add baby corn and cabbage,tossing everything together well, and keeping it all moving until baby corn is heated and cabbage  starts  to wilt. Just a minute or two.
Add the other Tablespoon of soy.
Push everything to the side a  little and add  cornstarch mixture. Toss all together well.
Add noodles and  toss  well.
Turn off heat, but keep tossing everything well to coat noodles, wilt cabbage a bit more (I like my cabbage with  a little crunch  left), and sauce thickens.  This isn't a real saucy dish,  just enough to coat.

Top with scallions and serve!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Easy, Cheesy Baked Cauliflower and Butter-Thyme Chicken Breasts

Easy Cheesy Baked Cauliflower with Butter-Thyme Chicken Breasts

With cauliflower in a cheesy, creamy sauce, and nestled under a crunchy bread crumb and parmesan topping, and pairs well with a juicy Butter-Thyme Chicken Breast (recipe below); your plate won't miss those mashed potatoes.

Cauliflower! I freeze my own in a gallon freezer baggie,and I used  a whole bag. So,  I would guess that would be about 1 1/2 - 2 regular sized store bought bags. Enough to fill a 9x13 inch baking dish halfway.

Be sure not only fully thaw the cauliflower, but to dry it. After thawing, I lay mine out on a clean towel to ensure it's fully thawed and dry. This way, it won't turn out watery.

You can use fresh cauliflower, I would just partially cook it first. Depending how you like your cauliflower. I like mine on the softer side.

You'll need:
bag of cauliflower, thawed and well drained
4 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup diced onion
1/4 cup flour
1 1/4 cup hot milk
1 cup heavy cream (can be omitted and just use all milk), hot
1/8 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
kosher salt & pepper to taste
12 oz cheddar cheese, grated
1/3 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese, divided in half
2 heaping  Tablespoons sour cream

For the topping:
2 cups coarse bread crumbs
3 Tablespoons soft butter
remaining  grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon parsley
pinch kosher salt
pinch pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Fill greased (or cooking spray) 9x13 inch baking dish half full of thawed, well drained cauliflower. Se  aside.

In a small saucepan, gently warm up milk and cream until hot, being careful not to burn the milk.

Melt 4 Tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over low heat and cook onion in it until onion begins to turn translucent,  5-7 minutes.

Add flour, whisk until all the butter is absorbed. Continue to whisk and cook over low heat about 2-3 minutes.

Slowly whisk in hot milk and cream in about 3 batches, whisking until smooth before each batch addition.

Add salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until sauce is thickened and  the floury taste is cooked out.

Add cheeses and stir until  smooth. Remove from heat and stir in 2 fat Tablespoons of sour cream.
Taste again for salt and pepper, keeping in mind the bread crumb topping will have parmesan and  salt in in too.

Pour cheese  sauce over cauliflower.

Add topping ingredients to bread crumbs and stir until butter is incorporated well into the crumbs.

Spread topping evenly over cauliflower. Sprinkle with parsley.

Bake, uncovered, at 350, for about 30-40  minutes, or until hot and bubbly.
Let sit for about 5-10 minutes before serving.

Makes a great  next day casserole with ham added to it!

One of my  favorite  things to make with this is Butter-Thyme chicken breasts.

This is for 4 large bone-in chicken breasts.
Mix 1/2 teaspoon of crushed thyme, 1/4 garlic powder, and a pinch of salt and pepper, with 4 Tablespoons of unsalted butter.
Gently   stick your finger up under the chicken breast skins and separate along the length  of the breast, keeping the sides of the skin intact with the breast. 
Divide the seasoned  butter  between the chicken,  and spread very well under the skins, and on top of the skins. Smear the butter around well, but with most of  it under the skin in thick layers. Sprinkle chicken  with a little more pepper, and salt, if desired.

Place on foil lined baking sheet sprayed  with cooking oil, and bake at 325 for 40-50 minutes, rotating pan about  halfway through cooking. Cook  until meat thermometer reads 165 and juices run clear.
Cover loosely with foil and let stand about 10 minutes before slicing.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Easy Ground Beef Pastitsio

This is my take on various pastitsios I've see over the years. Budget friendly by using only ground beef, and family friendly by being lightly, yet deliciously seasoned.

meat filling:2  lbs ground beef
1 cup diced white onion
1/2 cup beef broth
2 teaspoons grated garlic
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed between your fingertips
pinch  cayenne
1 (28 oz) can  whole tomatoes, chopped, with juices (I take kitchen scissors and chop them right in the can)
kosher salt & pepper to taste

for the pasta topping:
1/2 lb elbow macaroni, or small shell pasta, cooked but not until fully done. It's going to cook more in the oven, so just barely al dente is fine. Drained.
1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cup milk
1 cup heavy  cream
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
kosher salt and pepper to taste
2/3 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups fresh grated parmesan, divided

for breadcrumb topping:
2 cups coarse bread crumbs
1/4 of the grated parmesan
2 Tablespoons very soft butter
pinch kosher salt and pepper
parsley to sprinkle

To Make! :

Cook pasta as directed above, and set aside.
In a large skillet, brown ground beef, being careful not to mash up the ground beef too much. Larger chunks than  you would for spaghetti sauce is nice.
Add onion, garlic, herbs and spices, tomato paste, salt and pepper, and stir just to melt the tomato paste in  and distribute the spices.
Drain off accumulated fat, if needed.
Add beef  broth and tomatoes. Stir to combine, taste for salt and pepper, keeping in mind the parmesan added later will lend some saltiness.
Lower heat to a simmer, being careful to not stir too much,  and start on the white sauce for the pasta.

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter.
When the butter begins to bubble a bit, add flour all at once, and whisk quickly until all butter is absorbed. Stir constantly for about 2-3 minutes over low heat.
Slowly whisk  in the milk, whisking vigorously to avoid lumps.
When mixture is smooth, add cream and turn up heat just a bit to thicken a little quicker.
Add pinch of kosher salt and a good amount of pepper (or to your pepper preference).
Grate in about 1/8-1/4  teaspoon nutmeg
Turn off heat and stir in parmesan cheese and yogurt.
Quickly stir in beaten eggs, stirring until completely blended in.
Stir in pasta. Set aside.

Preheat oven to  350 degrees

for the crispy bread crumb topping:
 Mix together  all bread crumb topping until  well combined. Set aside.

Assemble !:

In a 9x13 baking dish, spread the  meat mixture evenly.
Carefully spoon pasta mixture over meat mixture, even  as possible without mixing meat and pasta.
Sprinkle on bread crumb topping  and parsley.

Bake, uncovered, until hot and bubbly and golden! About 30-45 minutes.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sausage and Leek Stuffed Acorn Squash

A beautiful fall dish offering some of our favorite flavors to sink our fork into on a cold winter evening.
You can use any meat or veggie you like, though I have to say I'm partial to the mild Italian sausage and light spices I mixed with fluffy homemade bread crumbs.

A bag of small dice plain stuffing cubes works fine too. Just stick the amount you need into a large plastic storage bag and give a few whacks with a heavy pan or rolling pin.  You don't want real fine bread crumbs like the kind sold in stores, but not real big chunks either.  Unless you like it chunky, then go ahead. :)

Leeks! Like an overgrown green onion, trim off ends, slice in half, then slice into half moons. 

Leeks! Right now they're very cheap and so yummy. They're a nice change to add to dishes instead of the same old (and expensive sometimes!) white onion.
I know some say just give them a rinse in water, but eh..I slice them first, then let them sit in a big bowl of water while I assemble other things, just to be sure all the dirt and grit is out. Make sure to dry them a bit, a salad spinner works great, before adding them.

Okay, before I go any further, I suppose I better get to the recipe!

3 acorn squash
1 lb mild Italian bulk sausage, browned, but not completely cooked through
1 leek, sliced and cleaned
1 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup reserved pan drippings from sausage
2 teaspoons grated white onion
1/4 teaspoon ground sage
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed between your palms
1 fat clove, or two small, of fresh garlic, grated
kosher salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese, divided
3 cups large bread crumbs or slightly crushed small cubed plain bread stuffing
3/4 cup beef broth

Nutmeg butter for topping:
1/4 cup melted butter or margarine with
1/8 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350
With a very sharp knife, slice each squash in half width-wise. Scoop out seeds and strings. Save seeds for making salted seed snacks or granola, if you like.  Trim the the tops and a bit of the bottom off each half so they sit without wobbling everywhere. 
Try to get them even, but they don't have to be perfect. Just cook the bigger ones a bit longer. I accidentally trimmed a little too much off a couple bottoms, I just put a bit of folded foil under them, so the stuffing wouldn't fall out when transferring them to a plate.

Foil a baking sheet and spray with nonstick spray. Spray the acorns with spray oil too, and sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. With a fork, prick each half very well.

Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, depending on your squash and how thick it is. Cook them until fork tender, but not squishy soft.

In the meantime, brown the Italian sausage, but don't cook all the way. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Pour out all but 1/4 cup of the pan drippings. If your sausage is lean, add enough butter to make about 1/4 cup of drippings and butter.
Over medium-low heat, add celery, leeks, sage, thyme and a pinch of kosher salt and pepper. Stir occassionally until celery begins to soften. Grate onion and garlic down into the pan and stir.
Also add breadcrumbs and cook for a minute or so until the bread begins to toast, then add sausage back to pan, and stir in up to 3/4 cup of broth, more if needed, but not too much. Pour in enough broth to soften bread crumbs, but not so much as to make it soggy.
Add salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.

Remove from heat and let cool a bit while you melt 1/4 cup butter or margarine with 1/8 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg.  If using unsalted butter, add just a wee pinch of salt.

When squash are soften, remove from oven.
To the stuffing, add half of the parmesan.

Fill all the acorn squash halve and top with remaining parmesan and drizzle nutmeg butter over all.
Bake, uncovered, at 325 degrees, for about 10-15 minutes, or until hot and tops are crusty.
Serve! :)

I can't seem to upload any pics to blogger at this time. I'll try to add more of the stuffed acorn squash later.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

And before we know's December..

In a couple weeks, it will be 6 months since I started this blog. My, how time flies when you're having fun!
It'll also be my 1 year anniversary being smoke free. Yay me!

I've been slacking on this blog lately because I've been a bit obsessive on finding THE perfect French bread, or one that would work for garlic bread, I can use to make garlic bread for at least 100 people. A recipe that doesn't use a ton of flour was a challenge too.

After a lot of Youtubing, blog and Google searching; and much time in the kitchen mixing, kneading, flouring, baking and misting, I think I've finally come up with a combination of all I've made and learned that will work for my goal.  whew!

Through all my bread practicing, I have learned there's no such thing as a failed loaf of bread, because one loaf's failure is an awesome bag of bread crumbs or bread pudding!  Score! 

I had also looked forward to sharing great Thanksgiving leftover recipes, but we ended up not having much turkey leftover. So we had sandwiches, always yum, and turkey pot pie. I'll be sharing the pot pie soon. It's very easy and so delicious.

I hope each and every one of you is enjoying the holiday season with lots of fellowship and family time.

Sally and Bacon